By HOWARD BALABAN firstname.lastname@example.org
Medina Journal-Register — Baseball is a kids game played professionally by grown men. Perhaps too often, those who play it at the highest level forget their roots.
For one Medina teenager, this past spring was a lesson in remembering.
Jacob Miller, 19, a member of the Medina High School Class of 2012, played for the Mustangs Varsity Baseball Team for four years. A competitive athlete, he said his original plan was to help a friend coach the Bluejays this past season as an assistant.
“I was still going to school and had a job,” Miller said, adding that he was worried about the time commitment.
During plans for practice one night, Medina Loyal Baseball League Commissioner Chris Goyette called Miller’s friend and said there were more players to be added to every team due to a shortage of coaches.
“He said we’d all need to take on an extra two or three players, and we all already had 11 kids,” Miller recalled. After thinking about it, Miller said he decided to make the time and be a head coach instead.
Instead of adding players to each team, they instead wound up on the roster of the C & H PC Angels and Miller led them.
He was by far the youngest local coach this season, and according to Goyette, he was the youngest head coach in recent memory.
“We discussed how young he was and we worried a little bit about how he would be accepted,” Goyette recalled. As it turned out, that worry went away when Miller brought a youthful enthusiasm to the Angels, and the parents saw that and helped him out when they could.
Miller was a “good fit” for the league, Goyette stated. “It was nice having someone who came up through the system, because it helped us immensely and he provided a good atmosphere for the kids.”
In previous years some high school students have helped out head coaches in the league, and Goyette said their participation adds to the players’ overall experience.
“It makes a difference,” Goyette said.
Miller, meanwhile, said the experience of handling an entire team as its head coach was “definitely not what I expected at all.”
After four years of interscholastic sports, he needed to learn how to separate his competitive nature from the coaching side of things.
As a coach for players ages seven to nine, Miller recalled how he said some things he never thought he would have to say again as a player.
“I’d yell, ‘Hit your cutoffs!’ and they would just look at me,” he laughed. He realized fairly quickly that the players, many of whom were just a year out of tee-ball, would benefit more from him teaching fundamentals of the game instead of the nuances of it.
“We worked on using two hands to catch a ball, on staying down for a groundball, things like that,” Miller said. “We also taught them not to be afraid of the ball.”
The fear of the ball, Miller said, was something he got over a long time ago. He said teaching the game and seeing it through the young players’ eyes reminded him of how “terrifying” a baseball used to be.
Goyette said Miller’s approach was right in line with the goal of the league.
“It sounded like the kids on his team learned and had a good time,” he said. “And that’s what we want, is for the kids to get better and improve.”
During the course of the season, Miller said he got to know the players and eventually considered them like family. The team’s parents also took to Miller.
“We made huge improvements during the season, and the kids were really tuned in near the end,” Miller said. “They knew what to do and were worried about winning.
“And the parents really helped me out, too,” he added.
Miller’s friends Ryan Bailey and John McLane also lent a hand in coaching the team.
“We didn’t win a lot of games this year, but we did things the right way,” he explained. “I was expecting a lot of kids not knowing what was going on and some parental problems because I’m so young.”
But expectation was not reality, he said.
He also did not expect the team parents to get him his own Major League Angels jersey as a thank you gift.
“I was shocked when that happened,” he said.
The overall experience of coaching left Miller feeling grateful that he did it.
“I’d recommend doing this to anyone,” he said. “I appreciate the game so much more seeing it from the kids’ eyes.”
The Journal-Register learned late Sunday that Miller was injured an automobile accident Saturday and was transported to Erie County Medical Center where he is recovering from injuries sustained in the crash.